It was winter. Thick snow covered the mountains and valleys of Transylvania. He put a thick cap on the mushroom-shaped oláh viscos, – it became a white mushroom from the black mushrooms, – he threw a soft fur along the hillsides, dusted the forest with glitter, covered it, covered the mud, turned the frozen bump and turned it into a dazzling white sea.
Everything, everything is pure, unspeakably white.
Only there in the Hungarian countryside, down to the Mureş, the endless whiteness broke here and there. Then, in every village, black burnt beams stood out from the snow, squirming fir trees daring their scorched branches like some huge black brooms, roofless walls whose edges were tainted by fire, interspersed with ruined street corners, curtains, castles, castle walls. He wanted to catch everything in the snow, blew the garden, fell into the empty rooms without roofs, delicious-186-it spread in dust even where the archway was not broken. Yet here and there on the floors and in the gardens, wonderful dark red spots emerged beneath him, on which man’s feet slipped. Everything was buried in the snow with even, equally pure whiteness, only these stains could not be captured, they appeared again, in vain he covered them.
In the former gardens, among the trampled, scorched evergreens, and further on the nearby stubble, in some places freshly vomited Khanty rose, around which stray dogs sneaked, dug, scrambled. And large armies of crows descended with a huge roar in swirling skies.
It was a terribly quiet winter; quieter than other winters. It was as if there had been less life. It was as if there had been less human life.
It was a terribly quiet winter: the winter following the Hora rebellion.
And the wolves set off in the mountains. Down to the mountain villages. They went near every farm, every village. At first only one or two, later as the winter intensified and the snow grew, both more and more and larger teams.
They walked in the twilight and at night. At the edges of the woods, they walked silently, in a row, one after the other, silently. With his head down, silently. Unpretentious-looking predators. At first glance, one would have thought they were gray, dirty comondors. They sat on the edge of the forest sometimes, rigidly,-187- dog-like and waited: they waited with dangerous patience until it would be dark in the evening.
They only attacked at night. Even then, there was little noise, although even a half-turma sheep was missing by morning. There was nothing left of them, but large red bloodstains blushed on the snow. They were robbed everywhere. But always at night, in the dark, squirming, cowardly robbers. In vain did they guard the homesteads, the flocks, in vain did strong, courageous Kuvasz guarded. The housekeeper was torn first. There was hardly a sound in the night.
The chamber ispan pinned two silver twenties to a wolf’s head. It was big money at the time, yet it wasn’t very hunted, even though it was proclaimed all over the snow. But there were other wilds in the woods that deserved more effort. Expensive game, profitable. Because then there was a bigger prize set on the heads of the rebel leaders. Three hundred gold for Horah and so much for Klosk. They were captured along and taken to Gyulafehérvár.
Now Lung Gavrila was hunted in the mountains to replace Hora. He had a hundred gold on his head, alive or dead.
The wolves walked undisturbed.
It was late afternoon. From Tosera, a small gray team passed up the valley of the Samos towards Mount Humpleu. They lined up speechless. In front, the old Maftyé, the sawmill from Lake Sermat, is a short, dog-faced autumn man. He was the leader.
Behind him passed a tall, rifle oláh, whose giant sheepskin cap sufficiently signaled an upscale -188-nature. His condra was unfolded sideways with a blue cord. He was the leader anyone could see. This was followed by two people from Gyurkuca, the skinny Pantyilimon and Simion, the Avramé, and at the back the younger Maftyé, a shepherdess from Mereggyó, who was usually called “Rooster” by his nickname.
They were strongly prepared for the trip. Above the leathery sleeve was a black, old-fashioned darling, all the same, only the tall man had more ornate, flask, variegated drinks, and crochet on their backs. In the high shoulder, as a forester, rifle, in the others a long-handled ax.
This is how they progressed toward Humpleu in a trail in the great virgin snow, which dusted the packed thick bocchi ages with small crystals, as well as the condran pants to the knees. There was a squeak of snow under the old Maftye. And where they came, a deep ditch of deep steel steepness remained behind them in the clear snow on the foamy surface.
At the Pojén meadow, the old man stopped at once and pointed his ax up to the edge of the pine forest. Seven wolves walked behind each other sluggishly, slowly, in the same direction as the people, towards Humpleu, too.
“Fourteen silver twenties are there,” Maftyé said with a low laugh.
“What’s in your hand isn’t a lie,” Demeter Nyág, the rifle gourd, replied mockingly, “let’s move on.”
And they went on wordlessly than before, uphill -189-clinging to the Humpleu side they, too, the wolves, into the snow-covered, mysterious abundance of woods…
It was already dark evening before they climbed the mountain. Three people remained before they even made it up. Only the old Maftyé and “Rooster”, the shepherd, went out to the edge of the large cauldron-like depression that opens at the crater-like peak of Mount Humpleu. In the middle of the depression, so that its light was captured by the surrounding rocks, a great fire burned. Next to him, in front of a hastily caliber, sat a young man. He stared idly at the fire. A long rifle lay beside him.
Before reaching the edge of the cliff, the old Maftyé shouted aloud:
– It’s me, Mafty! I’m coming with the cheese!
Maftyé struggled awkwardly out of the woods in the snow, moaning big as he gently stacked his feet into the natural stairs of the descending stone path. “Rooster” followed him everywhere.
He sat by the fire with a big jolt, moaning, like an old man. He didn’t say hello. He lifted the black-striped shuttle from his shoulder and, as if angry at him, slammed it to the ground.
– Here’s the cheese, Gavrila.
– Why did you bring this boy with you? Lung asked Gavrila darkly, gesturing with his chin towards “Rooster.”
But the old man just moaned, so that Gavrila repeated the question.
“There are many wolves, my brother, there are many wolves,” he replied -190-finally Maftyé, and now his tongue hardened at once. He began to speak in great detail, with great slanting, that the wolves had torn apart the most beautiful cow like that last night, just before the pen, the most beautiful cow. They didn’t hear a whimper, not even the dogs barking. And he made terrible curses on the wolves, and on the dogs, that God would beat their evil throats. Lots of wolves, lots of wolves, they didn’t leave a piece of the cow that big! Towards dawn he also heard their roar in front of the house.
The old man seemed so heated up in the narrative – or was it a sign? That he mimicked the roar, three times long, stretched into a howled wolf fashion. And at the top of the cliff appeared his companions: Demeter Nyág, the gornyik, and the two ax-jerk axers, Pántyilimon and Simion the Avram.
Gavrila wanted to get his rifle, but “Rooster” was sitting on it – by accident.
– Who are these? Maftyé! Who are these?!
“Hunters, wolf hunters, they came up with me,” Maftyé replied in the calmest voice and spat into the fire. The fire was very hot.
They approached quietly, heavily, without haste. They greeted me politely. Give God a calm good evening! And they settled around the fire with a great groan. Next to Gavrila is Demeter, the rifle, on the other side is “Rooster”, then the two gyurkuca, on the other side is the old Maftyé, the miller from Lake Sermer.
From a village were Gavrila and Demeter, upper goldsmiths.-191-
“Is that you, Brother Mitru?” Gavrila said, “so what are you doing here?”
– Me. Better up here than down there in Zalathnai. Soldiers are walking, – replied the addressee.
Then the conversation began, slowly, with long, long breaks. Meanwhile, one of them poked the fire or threw a large husang on it; then a whole garmada rose with sparks in the smoke, as if carrying frosted stars upwards.
But Gavrila still seems suspicious. He also said a word, but his right hand was inside his follicle, from the bay of which were two beautiful silver French pistols with coats of arms peeking out. Yet there was no suspicion in these people. They took their belongings out of their cradles, one or the other loosened their bocce and dried the soaked smoking staples by the fire. And the conversation was cheerful, beside the pipe, with the unanimous voice of the mountain rangers. It was said that the soldiers occupied Topánfalva, there are many soldiers in Albák and Felsőaranyos. They complained that two cups of butter were taken from each house. Hard line, hard line! That’s how time passed. The word went here and there as they snacked in peace and the brandy bottle walked around. Only Demeter, the gorny, was speechless, humming one by one at times, but his eyes were always there stealthily in Gavrila’s follicles,
One day, when the old Maftye put another branch on the fire, the fire and a burning husang crippled. -192-he rolled off him just to Gavrila’s feet. He smoked there in front of him. Gavrila leaned down to push him back. The trouble was, he bent down. It was a shame to bend down. Demeter and the “Rooster” threw themselves at him.
In the blink of an eye, his two nooks were on it. Only Maftyé remained standing and over the fire, squinting through the smoke to see what would happen. But he didn’t move from there.
He was captured. They took his pistols, tossed his rifle aside. Then Demeter Nyág took large chain handcuffs from his crank and hammered Gavrila, calmly, with expertise. Both hands and one leg. Then they let go and, suffocating a little from the exertion, sat back on the fire. The prisoner didn’t speak, just looked wild and breathed big ones like a wounded animal.
There was silence around the fire again, as if nothing had happened. Only the snow was more trampled where they fought. They lit the pipes again, administering the fire with a crusty palm. And the conversation began again slowly, intermittently, about tax, wolf, winter misery, spiced up with swearing, spitting, as before.
Gavrila also spoke:
– Pull me closer to the fire because I’m cold.
He was pulled closer. Now Demeter Nyág took the floor, turning to Gavrila, as if to amuse him. He said he had captured Hora and Kloska with his six gorny comrades on the Skoraset side. They were just as caught in the fire as you, Gavrila,-193-in the evening in the woods. They sat next to them just like they do now. That’s how it happened, that’s right.
The narrative interested Lung Gavrila. As if reassuringly, the leaders were also deceived in this way, so caught. You asked, is Ujbár Ursz? what about Krisán? so what became of the others? Who is already captured? Amazas told him everything he knew, they all told him. He seemed to be considered an important man, he was the hero of the day. Thus they conversed, and slowly seemed to forget what had happened between them before, that this man had been captured, beaten with iron, put into the hands of a executioner; both prisoners and pribes had a good conversation. They were very cheerful. There was also a joke, a big peasant joke, on which they laughed stormily. Gavrila laughed just like the others. Anyway, it was donated in his honor.
As time went on, they began to calm down, one or the other snoozing or staring wordlessly into the bluish night. Only the fire bounced equally…
But at the same time a new sound mingled with the bouncing of the fire. Long soft roar. From afar. Prolonged. A mysterious sound that seems to sound not through the air but through the snow on the ground. Twice, three times. Wolf howling!
First he heard “Rooster”, he jumped up. Then Pantyilimon and Simion. They had all jumped up and listened. The old Maftye finally spoke:
– The wolves are not very far away.
– They’re not far.-194-
“Hey, you could easily get some silver twenties if I still had good eyes and a rifle,” the old man continued. The remark was obviously to Demeter Nyág, but Maftyé just looked at himself as if speaking to the fire.
– Can anyone call? The gorny asked (because then the wolf needs two, one to call, the other to shoot).
Then every mountain can call a wolf. The long Pantyilimon immediately demonstrated his science, leaned toward the ground, made a funnel from both hands to his mouth, and moaned long. The blood vessels on the lean neck swelled from the stifled strain like some kind of rope. Nyág Demeter was pleased with the stunt, he said: good! So, at the encouragement of the Maftyé, they set out for him as well. The rifle gorny with Pantyilimon at the head, the other with its noose and rooster on the hillside.
“I’ll stay here by the fire old man,” the miller encouraged them, “I’ll take care of the fire and Gavrila.” They can’t run away.
The old man said this in a sad voice. It was as if he really regretted that he couldn’t go with them.
The others are gone.
On one of the ridges of the great Humpleu mountain, which stretches towards Muncselmarc, seven wolves ran in a row. In front, a large redhead went, his nose on the ground, his tail retracted, in a slow trot. Sometimes he stopped and that’s when the others stopped. He listened, watched. Then he started again. They walked softly, still,-195-only very rarely did a little bit of snow under their feet. Then the big woodpecker suddenly looked around. Then more and more at a steady pace, more and more…
There was a soft roar from the main ridge of the mountain, once; twice. The wolves stopped. But now there was silence. No, now, now it sounded again! – The chief wolf started, the others after him; but they went carefully, even more carefully than before, at greater intervals. And again there was a roar up the hill, closer. But as if it weren’t quite a normal sound…? The redhead slowed his pace. He suspected a little. Is it really the voice of a partner?
Now I come to a clearing. At the edge of the thicket, the great redhead stopped and looked out over the clearing from the dark black forest among the drooping pine branches. It was so bright out there! the snow shone evenly in untouched purity in the blue light of early dawn. He was not interrupted by any suspicious clues. The wolf took a few steps forward, into the open.
A shot rang out.
What is a smaller, even tiny time than the moment? With this time ratio, the wolf noticed the hunters before the shot. Late to dodge the shot, still in time to save his life: to turn around. So that the other six wolves would also turn inside the thicket.
For the shot, the big redhead snarled back to his thigh, then jumped after his companions. And on the trail where they came, they rushed back, disappeared-196-away in the wilderness, all seven. Then they trotted, as before, only a drop of blood dotted the snow in the footsteps of the back, the woodpecker, a tiny drop of blood. But they moved on, on… at a steady pace.
Maftyé listened. He rested his two large soles on a half-sunken rod, his tiny eyes under the red eyelids staring at the fire, following the flame as it danced, fluttered upward, with a cute body, a blue dying mountain that ran along a crust, as if trying to vanish in the smoke, he sat down on the tree again. Sometimes a small flame spewed horizontally on each of the cracks in the pine bark, quite blue, as if someone were blowing out from inside and screaming slightly. Then he bounced a few and sparks raced apart. And a tree opened, and the opening spread all over him, his mouth turning back, like a mouth opening to a smile, from the inside of which all hell had shone. At other times, it was the turn of some dry twig, a small splinter of pitchers. Suddenly a great light spread,
Gavrila listened too. Ever since the others left and was left alone with the dog-faced old man, he had a stronger sense of bondage. The frogs also pressed better. As a faint memory, a picture of a tree appeared, the tree of Fehérvár, to which he is also sent. And it seemed so unbelievable. Gavrila didn’t speak, just whimpered softly.-197-
Maftyé said with great anticipation:
– Did you lead the people in Topánfalva then?
The old man didn’t say when, but the other immediately understood that it was when the house of gold was robbed.
– Why do you ask? Gavrila replied.
– I’m just asking.
– Well, me. But why do you ask it?
“I’m just asking,” the miller repeated uniformly, spitting into the fire.
They listened again, motionless. Gavrila felt the old man want something, but he didn’t encourage it. Mafty did indeed speak again, but he didn’t take his eyes off the fire.
– It could have been a good fair then, a good fair.
Maftyé muttered something and poked the fire. He seemed to be breaking his mind at something because he blinked fiercely. Then he spat into the fire again, kind of encouraging. Seeing that Gavrila wasn’t starting, he said,
– What would you give me if I let you go?
In Gavrila, hope, liberation, hope for freedom flashed, though it did not show. He, too, was just as aloof as the other, albeit younger.
– Hm. I would give you five golds, ”he said, as if forcing himself to be generous, he added,“ and a piglet at Easter.
The old man did not answer, but picked up a large piece of wood and set it on fire. He managed that for a long time-198-burn well with great attention. His hand was in the flames. The man would have thought his hand was burning there. But the heat didn’t catch on it, he even pushed the embers with his palms. The old man had very refractory skin.
“I’d like more,” Gavrila said.
The old man just stared into the fire, his chin pushed forward, his teeth clenched. Thin-lipped long mouth made him look so doggy, he made his expression so motionlessly cruel. And the tiny eyes sitting deep.
“I would give a lot more, say twice as much, ten gold,” Gavrila said again. It wasn’t a pig anymore.
The miller did not answer.
Gavrilat was struck by hope; as if a large bullet was sitting in his throat, he was suffocated by anticipation. And he felt like time was running out, the others would find him coming back and then it was over.
– Tell me, Maftyé! So tell me! How much do you want?
In the distance, a shot rang out. Gavrila became even more restless, knowing that they would return shortly now.
“You Mafty, you Mafty, I’ll give you more, you hear?” So tell me, Brother Maftyé, what should I give you? The half? Do you want half? They’re coming soon! So answer me. The half?
He looked questioningly, beggingly at the old man’s face, which was painted red from below by the light of the fire. The miller finally replied:-199-
– How do I know what half it is?
“I don’t know how much, but many, very many,” Gavrila insisted. – We’ll take it out together, just let it go. Let’s take it out together.
– Hm. Good.
– Let go, because they’re coming. There was already a shot.
But Maftye could not be rushed.
– Tell me where he is, Gavrila.
– Let go and I’ll show you.
– Not possible. Tell me first. I’m an old man and you’re young, I won’t mature if you run away.
Gavrila hesitated, but caution still prevailed.
– You can’t tell first.
“Good,” the old dog replied calmly, spitting heavily into the fire, a sign that he didn’t mind.
They listened again. Gavrila watched with all her might, with every pore in her body, isn’t she still crunching in the woods, aren’t they coming yet? He was tormented by desire, tormented by fear. And in his resurrected soul was the image of the large, four-columned tree he had seen in Gyulafehérvár when he went to a fair there. He remembered him vividly now, as if he were there. Between the columns hung something scattered, formless. The kids threw stones at these stuffed things. They sang as empty as if they were made of paper. It’s like it’s made of paper. Especially this empty voice, it was awful.-200-
And he listened intently to see if they were coming yet. If a branch bounced, if the fire broke out, it shook. And he watched, he watched out into the twilight, dark forest to see if they were coming yet because then it was over!
Then he couldn’t take it anymore.
– At the Gruju ursuluj spring, under the large white pine, from the beech tree. There is a cross cut to the root, it is under it. He said this softly, hoarsely, almost whispering. – Let go soon!
The old man got up. But he didn’t go to Gavrila.
He went from there or twenty steps, to a large, dug tree and cut down a branch, two, three. Then, slowly, cumbersomely, perhaps exaggerating, his old, sluggish gait dragged the branch to the fire. He was moving slowly, blowing big ones; the branch behind him plowed deep into the snow.
He sat down again by the fire and began to fiddle with the long ax he had brought.
The other asked more and more, “Maftyé!” Maftyé! so let go! But he didn’t realize it either. The pleading words and the terribly complicated curses alternated, but the old Maftyé didn’t listen, just as he would have suddenly become deaf. Calmly, evenly, he shredded the wood. He slammed the ax into a trunk next to him to be in hand. Then he placed a piece or two on the fire, sat next to him, guided by the barked fireproof hands. He didn’t even look where Gavrila was tossing, raging, begging, cursing, “Rogue!” Rogue! It was as if the old dog-like face was made of wood. -201-There was no smile, no pity, no malice on it, only expressionless, as always.
But at last they made a noise, a snowstorm, a loud speech from the woods and Gavrila fell silent, only her breasts panting loudly.
They came down where they had been up the night before, on the same trail. Only now were there one more, with the chained Gavrila. They were just so wordless, in line, quiet. These mountain rangers were so alike in clothing, movement, even the utterly closedness of their faces, that one could not tell which was the guard, which was the prisoner, if the handcuffs on Gavrila’s hand sometimes did not flash.
Arriving on the banks of the Szamos, they took a rest. Here, the old Maftyé unexpectedly stated that he would not escort the prisoner to Topánfalva, but would go home to the mill because he could not leave for a long time, he said.
So before they divorced, they discussed there before Gavrila who was entitled to the blood fee. That everyone has fifteen gold, plus fifteen more Nyág Demeter, because he is the leader and separate ten gold for old Maftye, because he has shown him where to farm, whom they have been looking for. They did not easily agree, because the old man wanted more, quarreled, even though the class had already discussed it in advance. Gavrila listened, monotonous, as if it wasn’t about the price of his head.
Demeter Nyág, the gorny, the two gyukuca, -202-Gavrila and “Rooster”, the shepherd bachelor, set off. They went over Gyalu Bouluj to Albai, Topánfalva, to hand over the prisoner, to receive the reward. Old Maftyé stayed on the banks of the Szamos. He waited for the others to enter the woods on the other side.
He waited calmly, with the figure pushed forward, as if sniffing. Gavrila looked back twice, but the old man was still sitting there on the stone, motionless, legs spread apart. It only started when Gavrila and his companions were absorbed by the high density. But he did not go to the mill, not to the Tosera. No. He hit the mountain. Gruju went towards Ursuluj, towards the spring, towards the big white pine. He struggled slowly over the bald catcher. With difficulty, with persistent effort, stubbornly.
And he disappeared into the pine forest.
Seven wolves trotted down the side. Six went in a row at equal intervals; the seventh was slightly behind. Where the seventh stepped, a small drop of blood blushed in the snow, just a drop. They reached the edge of the woods. It may have been too clear, so they didn’t go any further. They sat down, almost in a smoothie. With a long nose outstretched, they sniffed the cooling evening air. They scratched, fluffed. They weren’t some ornate beasts.
That wounded, old archer lay farther away from the others. He panted hard. He looked tired on the road, which his companions didn’t even pick up. He licked the wound over and over again.-203-
Then one of the wolves got up and came to him. He smelled it. The redhead growled, but the other did not move beside him, but stared at the wounded. Then two more stepped there, stiff, silent. Already, three pairs of green eyes glared hard at him.
It was slowly falling. In the twilight of the hostel, the wolves’ gazes brightened more and more. Four, five, six pairs of eyes. The big woodpecker rested his head between his two front legs, growling softly and sometimes, suddenly like lightning, his huge white dentures gleaming. The others did not answer, just stared motionless at them with their hungry, green, piercing eyes…
Six wolves headed downhill, toward the homesteads, toward the sheep. They trotted in a row, following in a footstep. They slid across the snow like the shadows of some big comondors. Sometimes they stopped, listened, then moved again, on, on…
On the side where they sat in the evening, a large pool of blood remained on the crushed snow. A handful of fur lay in the snow. Wolf hair. A few steps down to the side where his weight had slipped, lay a torn giant wolf’s head. His chin pierced the snow, his huge mouth open, as if he still wanted to bite. His glassy eyes looked brightly, expressionlessly at the moonlit night…